Friday, August 17, 2012

I have an old climbing friend who used to tell me that he didn't care to climb "harder." Climbing hard wasn't fun and it was kinda freaky, he would say. He would rather spend his time climbing things he could make it to the top of. You know, things that were in his "range."

That went on for quite a while. There was a constant battle of saying "take" with plenty of excuses following close behind. He suffered from a lack of improvement and consistently climbed the same grades year in and year out.    

Long story short: he doesn't really climb anymore.

It's not an uncommon story and, to some degree, it happens to all of us. And although it doesn't always lead to quitting the sport, hitting a plateau is never easy to deal with and usually causes some sort of setback, usually mental or motivational. Some people are more determined and stick with it a little longer than others. However, inevitably a majority of people hit a plateau in their climbing, get frustrated for a period of time, and either quit climbing or settle for an "I'm as good as I'll get" mentality and won't climb anything harder. Either decision is fine. People will do what they want and live their lives how they see fit. Not climbing is fine. Millions of people don't climb. And I love them all!

My point is, I know there are people out there teetering on the verge of a plateau (I've been there) and I have some tips for trying harder and having fun while you do it!

Let me list a few reasons why people climb:
-It feels good to move efficiently. 
-Climbing is challenging (if you make it challenging)
-Exposure feels amazing!
-You get to be outside
-All your non-climbing friends think it's awesome
-It feels really good to improve at something so complex and diverse
-It gets you fit
-It's exciting
-You get so see some of the most amazing places in the world

There are dozens of other reasons why a person might start climbing. But how long do those feelings last? And I often ask myself, if I'm not getting better, am I getting worse?

When we stop making improvements in climbing we might begin to lose sight of how beautiful it is outside or the fight through that challenging climb might not be as fun as it used to be (especially when that challenging climb is as challenging as it has always been!). What I've boiled it down to is, basically, new feelings are fun and they feel good. That's why people try new things. Do you remember your first lead fall? Or balancing flawlessly across a crimpy face, no mistakes, on a project? Figuring out what a knee-drop is? Your first kiss? (ok... your first kiss might not have been so great). My point is, the feeling of learning something new is thrilling.

When you plateau, you are no longer learning.

At this point some of you might be thinking, "But, seriously, Joey, I really don't care to climb 'harder.' I really, seriously, just don't care. Like, honestly, I don't want scream my ass off while dead-pointing to some tiny crimp on some route with the prospect of falling 20+ feet. That's not fun. I just want to climb fun routes with fun moves with fun people."

Well, it's a good thing that's exactly what I'm talking about!
calvin and hobbes
(That's life)

Although, I cannot entirely deny or say I dislike the many conveniences of our impressively innovative society; I do, however, find that using a little elbow grease and some good old-fashioned hard work is more effective than cheap tricks or throwing money at "easy" solutions. The ticket to successful improvements in climbing is hard work. No exceptions.

There is no 5 minute crimp strength or a "Sham-wow" to replace real life experience. You can't buy hand jamming for 3 easy payments of $9.99 (If you sign up now you'll receive finger jamming absolutely FREE). And there is not an over the counter V7 pill. My point is, if you find yourself hitting your head against the wall, at a plateau, not improving at something you love to do, it might be time to invest a little extra effort. 

Plus, Calvin is forgetting a fundamental thing about shoveling snow while it's cold: All that shoveling will definitely warm him up!

(Try that steep-juggy route you're not very good at, over there)

People ask me all the time, "Hey, how do you do this move?" Sometimes I'll show them or give a suggestion about footwork or sequencing or something. But usually I don't give them the right answer. I don't do it on purpose, I just don't think they will like my answer very much. But the truth is there is no trick! Sometimes you just have to get better at climbing. So, here are a few things that I would like to say instead:

"Warm up well with low intensity climbing and cardio. Use some of your warm-up time working on footwork and other technical skills. Spend a good amount of time in the gym working on similar moves on easier terrain and on easier holds in order to learn the "movement" better. Mix it up and climb outside as much as possible, with as many different people as possible, and on as many different types of rock as possible. Climb in as many different conditions as possible. Figure out what you struggle with most and spend most of your time struggling with it until you improve at it. Do some steep bouldering as well, to work on your strength and power. Watch tons of other people climb. Watch climbing videos. Read climbing books. Think about climbing. Eat healthier, lose a few pounds, or get more rest between climbing sessions. Find a way to enjoy a good pump. Try to not use the word "take," or change how you talk to yourself. Commit. Try one more route." 

Do some of that for a few weeks and I bet you will figure out how to do that one move! Plus, you will gain more power on your own by putting in the effort on your own. You will learn so much more about climbing if you take the time to do it yourself, rather than have someone tell you "the answer."

Now, I'm not saying everybody needs to do all of that stuff in order to improve on that one move (honestly, I don't do half of that stuff I just listed). However, I have done it all at one time or another. Some of it exceptionally improved my climbing, and some of it didn't work as quickly for me. None the less, all of those suggestions will help you improve in some way. Then it's up to you to decide what will help you improve the quickest. Most importantly, I believe that working on your weaknesses will yield the greatest improvements. It may not be the most fun at first. Let's face it, "failing" isn't fun. I realize this. But, let's also face this: we are participating in an activity which, without a doubt, consistently presents us with failure. We fall and fall and fall and fall.

So, if we're not getting better are we getting worse?

If we don't learn from our "failures," then yes. If we don't attempt to improve on our weaknesses, then yes. If we try the same routes, the same way, with the same intensity, and don't get out of our comfort zones and embrace a little failure, then yes, we won't improve. We will get stuck, burned out, and we will not have any improvement to enjoy, or challenges to overcome.

We don't have to climb Mount Everest... just try to do one more pull up or be a little more quiet with those feet. Enjoy every small victory along the way.

... Oh, and if you still just like to have fun and make it to the top of everything you try, that's fine too!

See you at the top.